I have struggled over the years to get team meetings to work well. There have always been some inherent conflicts I have never really managed to balance. Whether to allow the conversation to flow freely or to keep strictly to time, when I knew that digressions would often lead to moments of inspiration. How to keep the whole team interested, when I was keen to understand how each of my team were doing. Over the years, I tended to vary the format, as it became stale, or as the excuses for non-attendance grew. Yet, the “right formula” remained elusive.
When I think about the best meetings I have had, as opposed to analysing what’s going wrong, I get a different picture. In these meetings, people are engaged; the conversation flows and laughter can be heard. I realise that it is not about having a repeatable formula. It is about team members feeling engaged as a true member of a real team. The “chemistry” happens not due to a formula, but when they have been working on something that interests him or her and when they feel their contribution has been useful and valued.
Those meetings finish naturally, not when the chairman says so. People leave invigorated and refreshed, not relieved or depressed. The team are re-united and strong again. The buzz of the meeting often continues into the corridors and onwards to the vending machine.
I have also come to realise that I always had my interests at the front of my mind. I needed to understand what my managers were doing, what issues they had, where they needed my help or the help of others. On reflection, they should have been called “my meetings” not “team meetings”, as they were really there to ensure I felt fully informed and in control.
How different it could have been if I really trusted them to do their jobs and used the team meetings as a way of harnessing their collective skills and energies. So, if you run team meetings in a conventional way and they feel somewhat stale or sterile, this month’s workshop is to encourage you to think differently about them – to make them truly “team meetings”.
Ask yourself whether you are using team meetings for your own ends e.g. as a means of keeping you better informed or for exercising control. If so, are there other ways of achieving this (as you are not using people’s time effectively!) e.g. making better use of one-to-one meetings.
- Choose a single agenda item where you could usefully use the team to collectively resolve. Ideally choose something where everyone has some level of personal interest in the outcome.
- If possible, use an experienced facilitator to guide the meeting, capturing key points. This allows you, as team leader, to contribute alongside others, rather than to direct the discussions.
- Step back and enjoy the interaction and energy as the team starts to work together, resisting the tendency to take control or act as timekeeper.
- Recognise when the energy level naturally subsides, resisting the temptation to complete the task, but allowing it to come a useful resting place. Then spend a little time reviewing where you are, what needs to be done next and agree a time for getting together again.
I tend to measure the effectiveness of such meetings by the amount of laughter heard and by how easily people can magically find space in their diaries when they are looking forward to something!
We have been following this approach in our team meetings at Meta, when we realised a few months ago we were falling into the “formula trap”. We have had some inspired sessions and our meetings are far more enjoyable. They now feel like proper “team meetings”.